A Dialogue About History: the Pentagon Papers
What was your reaction to the leaking of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, and why did you react this way?
- We never should have been there. Get Sandy Hannah’s book, “The Ignorance of Bliss”!
- I said, great. Now we know the war is pointless. Maybe our boys can come home.
- We noticed that trust became an issue and that people in and out of power started misusing the press.
- Being a part of the military at the time, I was angry that this information was leaked and now, however, having acquired much more knowledge and being away from the military influence I believe that if we don’t have “leakers” the people of this country will remain in the dark about what really goes on in government.
The Pentagon Papers were an influential publication that exposed the true involvement of the United States Government in the Vietnam War. They were key in uniting the public against US presence in Vietnam and drew greater support to protests against US participation. The answers I received from members of the Lambertville Historical Society didn’t surprise me at all in their nature. The responses directly portrayed the sentiment illustrated in my history textbook in AP US History. The citizens of the United States were exceedingly dissatisfied with the growing involvement of the US in Vietnam. With the publication of the Pentagon Papers, this dissatisfaction exploded into a rage because the government had concealed important information from the general public. A response from the Historical Society that supports this almost verbatim is “I said, great. Now we know the war is pointless. Maybe our boys can come home.” The Pentagon Papers both angered the public and secured the removal of the US from Vietnam, bringing many soldiers home before their untimely and unnecessary deaths. In addition to the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers reinforced the First Amendment, exposing the misdeeds of the US government from 1945 to 1971. The response that states “We noticed that trust became an issue and that people in and out of power started misusing the press,” illustrates the divide that grew between the people and those governing them. President Nixon received the most backlash for the Pentagon Papers. As the Papers were published by Daniel Ellsberg, Nixon attempted to use his designated group of “Plumbers” to discredit Ellsberg with information that the Plumbers would find by breaking into Ellsberg’s psychology office. The attempt further discredited Nixon, and his efforts to stop the publication of the Pentagon Papers were halted by the Supreme Court ruling in New York Times Co. v. United States, which ruled that the government could not violate the freedom of the press. An excellent book that I suggest regarding Ellsberg and the story of the release of the Pentagon Papers is Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. The response I obtained from the Historical Society, “We never should have been there. Get Sandy Hannah’s book, The Ignorance of Bliss!”, embodies the impact the Pentagon Papers had on all forms of the press, including literature. The release of the classified documents within the Papers shattered all previous thoughts on the limitations of the First Amendment, reinforcing the importance of the Bill of Rights. The answers that I received from the Lambertville Historical Society on the Pentagon Papers have educated me on how Lambertville reacted to the release of the Pentagon Papers, the alignment of the general population with the freedom of the press and the removal of US involvement in Vietnam. These answers increased my understanding of the topic, expanding on what I learned in AP US History with authentic input from those who lived through the event itself.